Alfonso Siciliano

'Currently I’m realising a huge dream I had...'

  • Alfonso Siciliano

Studying towards a PhD in Ecology

Coming down from Italy, Alfonso has spent many years researching marine biology and ecology, and is currently studying habitat cascades for his PhD research at UC. His main focus investigates the ecosystems around rocky shores, seagrass beds and estuaries, exploring their biodiversity and functions using experimental ecology (video).

‘Currently I’m realising a huge dream I had,’ he says. ‘My subject allows me to spend a pretty big part of my time on field and in the lab. On-field I have a good chance to see what’s really happening in what I’m studying; I’ve never been too much into “what I cannot see” but for my field study everything is different.’

Alfonso decided on UC to carry out his PhD research, due to having the exact PhD position and topic he wanted. His experience has been made even better by the ‘smoothness’ he has acquiring materials for fieldwork and lab to carry out his studies.

‘My goal is acquiring strong and high quality experience in my field: learning how to run correct statistical analysis, how to design and plan surveys and experiments for maximising outcomes and minimising efforts, and improving in the while my communication skills.’

He has so far taken part in a Marsden Project at UC funded through the Royal Society of New Zealand, and in the Annual Biology Conference, which he says was ‘really exciting and extremely useful’ towards his goals.

Settling on New Zealand as his overseas study location was in part inspired by these kinds of opportunities.

‘Thanks to media, I've always thought New Zealand could have been a good place for me, in one hand for my academic career due to high profile universities and in the other for my relaxed lifestyle with a strong passion for nature,’ he says. ‘I dreamt for two years to be in New Zealand for continuing my studies and living in this country, and now I'm here.’

So far, Alfonso says New Zealand has lived up to its reputation.

‘I definitely love life here as a student, very relaxing and slow-moving,’ he says. ‘The first word that comes to my mind at this point is "altruism". In both my academic and everyday life I'm surrounded by people pretty eager to help. The sense not to be just a customer or just a student is my most common sensation.’

Alfonso has also thoroughly enjoyed exploring the New Zealand wildlife, with his other passion in life being videography and photography, which he documents on his website.

‘I’m trying to work in the area of short documentaries especially for my topic for which there is still little information,’ he says. ‘In my free time I try to change topic going hiking, fishing and travelling with my motorbike, but I have to confess I'm so in this research that I spend a big part of my free time continuing studying, depending on what are the most exciting things in my research.’

A big part of going into research in Ecology, he says, is understanding that there is more to the field than the idea of swimming with dolphins and visiting exotic locations, and understanding your passions is important for those considering a career track in ecology.

‘My area of research (marine biology and ecology), like other fields, is subject to many variables, but two are the most important things to consider: luck and passion. I’ve been very lucky ‘til now, and as for passion, there’s nothing better than what I’m doing right now.

‘There are plenty of people disappointed to discover they have to work in the lab for hours of tedious work, go on-field at 4am in 0°C, sometimes with rain, or get muddy in an estuary where you’ll never see a dolphin… and here is when passion, the factor we can control, becomes an important part of your job. As we say, “do a job you love and you’ll never work a single day”.’

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